Grandma’s Grand Tour Part 8: Rouen, Caen, St. Malo


Days 32 through 34 of my grandmother’s 1936 trip to Europe, covering a portion of her travels through Normandy. (Previously: Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7.)

Paris to Rouen Sat. July 25 [1936]

At 9:30 this morning we said our farewells to Kay & Charlotte & the Nicholsons and started on our way to Rouen.  It’s surprising how bad we all felt leaving the party that we had really known such a short time.  We arrived in Rouen about noon & after hurry around [sic] for a porter found the train only stopped about 2 minutes; so with the help of a couple of Frenchmen we threw our baggage out of the windows of the train & went scurrying around for the man from the hotel who was to meet us.  To our dismay there was none & so we managed in our very bad French to get a cab & get to our destination which proved to be a very dismal place.  Our rooms were on the 4th floor to which we had to walk as there were no lifts.  After lunch we started out to see the town.  We visited the Cathedral where some man kindly offered to guide us thru & then charged us 90¢ a piece.  This is the town where Joan d’Arc was burned.  Rain drove us back to the hotel but after dinner we started out again to see the Palace of Justice, the famous clock & a statue of Joan d’Arc.  Our method of sightseeing was quite rare.  Marie with the travel book reading about the things, Bert with a map of the city to see that we were looking at the right things, Jo with a French-English dictionary & me looking the part of a typical tourist with my mouth wide open just gaping.  Next to the Select Theatre to see the “Gay Divorcee” with French dialogue.  The theatre was smelly & crowded & we couldn’t make out head or tail of the picture so during the intermission we left unable to stay another minute.  How we longed for a good old fashion American movie.

For an older but more comprehensive view of Rouen, Project Gutenberg has an 1840 text Rouen: Its History and Monuments by Théodore Licquet.  And of course there’s the Wikipedia page for the modern view.  The Gay Divorcee starred Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire, their second on-screen pairing, and was nominated for Best Picture.

Ruen to Caen, Sunday, July 26, 1936

We started out at about 8:30 A.M. by motor coach for Caen, after quite a mix up at the station about our luggage a part of which they finally had to ship ahead to St. Malo.  Our first stop was Jumièges, the ruins of an old abbey, with just the walls of the 3 churches which composed it.  Very interesting sight which would have been much more so if we had been able to understand the French guides.  The man who was with us was supposed to translate but he did a very poor job.  Our next stop was the Abbey of St. Wandrille where we heard the Sunday morning services and then were shown around the outdoor restaurant at Caudebec-en-Caux where we dined with a woman from California who later in the day became our interpreter.   Deauville for a afternoon tea which cost us 10 francs (70¢).  We were all very disappointed in the place after all we had heard about it.  It looked just like Oak Street Beach.  At dinner time we arrived at Caen where we were to spend the night.  After dinner we had our usual walk around the town and then to bed early.

Places: Jumièges, Abbey of St. Wandrille (Fontenelle Abbey), Caudebec-en-Caux, Deauville, and Caen.  And, for comparison, Oak Street Beach, which I believe was visible from the window of my grandmother’s apartment in Chicago when I knew her. UPDATE: I was wrong, this was not the beach visible from her window.  That was a Yacht Club.  Why have I heard of Oak Street Beach?

Caen – St. Malo, July 27, Mon. [1936]

Left Caen about 8 en route for Bayeux where the famous tapestry of Matilda is.  We walked about the town saw the cathedral and then spent about an hour looking at the tapestry.  We didn’t stay until the guide finished lecturing as we couldn’t understand a word & decided the air would do us much more good.  From here we traveled for about 3 hours seeing some of the very beautiful country of Normandy, had lunch in Granville and then on to Mont St. Michel the high spot of the day.  On our way there we passed thru Le Havre & saw the Normandie docked there.  About a half hour before we reached Mont St. Michel we saw it in the distance, a very beautiful sight.  Upon arriving we were told to follow the little crooked street, lined with souvenir shops and restaurants, until we reached the church.  We kept walking and climbing & steps until we reached the top simply exhausted.  Here we were conducted thru and saw the rooms used by the monks in the early days & later during the Revolution used as prisons.  The whole church was built by the monks who carried each piece of stone from the nearby quarries up to the top of the mount.  It is a beautiful piece of gothic structure.  After 2 hours of wandering around we again started on our way passing thru many small towns until we reached our destination St. Malo.  This is an old 11th century town completely surrounded by walls from the old fort.  It is a terribly dirty place with streets so narrow by walking down the middle you can almost touch the buildings on either side.  After dinner we went out into the square where they were showing movies.  We sat at a sidewalk cafe for a while had a drink & then went up to bed just before the movie was over.  The hotel was rather miserable but clean.

Bayeux (and its tapestry), Granville, Mont St. Michel, Le Havre, St. Malo.  Le Havre was the home port of the S.S. Normandie, which at the time was the largest passenger ship in the world.  Four years after my grandmother saw it the ship was seized by the U.S. for use in WWII after the fall of France and renamed the USS Lafayette, but it never saw service as it caught fire in New York harbor while being converted into a troopship and capsized.  The Wikipedia article has some amazing photographs.  My favorite is this one, of the capsized ship still in the harbor:



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  1. The beach from the window was not Oak Street Beach. Oak Street Beach is near Lincoln Park. You saw the Yacht Club and all the boats from the window.

  2. Ooh, am very jealous of this part of your grandmother’s trip. The Bayeux tapestries! I believe you may have made a slight transcription error, however, in that Joan of Arc was burned, but not buried, in Rouen, there not being anything left of her to bury.

  3. Kat: you’re right. There’s a period from the sentence above hovering over the peak of the “n”, but now that you point it out it is clearly supposed to be “burned.” Fixed.

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